The United States is deeply divided. We all see that. Each side has its policy agenda, a truth that has not changed since our founding. What has changed is our definition of ourselves as a country and as a people.
I have believed my entire life (though I believe it’s changing) that Americans are 80% moderate, fairly equally divided between liberals and conservatives, and that 10% proclaim an extreme leftist policy and 10% proclaim an extreme rightist policy.
It’s that 80% however, no matter their disagreements, who’ve held the United States together through a national belief that our country and our democracy is more important than individual aggrandizement. We admire George Washington for many things, but most of all for his abandonment of absolute power when it was his for the taking (following the Revolutionary War) and again by walking away from power after two terms as president under the new constitution, which did not limit his terms in office. That made an exceptional general and statesman great. It set the example for almost all who followed.
No one dared break that precedent until Franklin Roosevelt in the middle of the twentieth century. I feel for him, though. After two terms in which he pulled the country out of its worst economic depression, running for a third term occurred in 1940 with the world at war and the US poised on the brink of the precipice. The people were divided then, very much so, between pro-war and anti-war sentiments. It was a dangerous time, when fascism nearly took over much of the world.
So Roosevelt won a third term and was elected to a fourth during World War II, a race he could not walk away from after D-Day (in the election year) turned the tide of war to our allies’ favor. So if we excuse Franklin for the hubris that led to the encoding by law of Washington’s precedent as a constitutional amendment, then we see a fairly unbroken string of the abrogation of power through to the modern day.
Donald Trump may or may not get to test that. This is not about that. I wish to discuss the polarization of our national pride into detrimental extremism. Hubris? Donald Trump has plenty. But he does not work alone. Seventy-one million voters think he should still be president even after a disastrous four years of lies, deceit, isolationism, tantrums, cruelty of policy (e.g., immigration) and immature vindictiveness.
I couldn’t believe the average parent would condone such behavior from a twelve year old child, much less cheer it on in their president. Remember, this man-child holds the nuclear codes, destroys alliances, ignores the pandemic, declares the death toll “it is what it is”, and so clearly resides under the thumb of Russian President Putin that our national security remains in doubt to this moment.
Many feel as I do. So I cheer on the election of President-Elect Biden and so far, his selections for high level positions seem fair and balanced.
But I still fear. I feel it in the pit of my stomach. I don’t doubt Biden will execute his office with grace, good sense, dignity, and skill. That is nearly a given (but we’ll see). I fear his political-savvy friends in the DNC will pressure him to include a great number of Socialists to high office, especially Bernie Sanders in some capacity (but not at all limited to him). I pray the Department of Labor remains with a moderate. I hope the backlash to Donald Trump isn’t more extremism, this time on the left.
I have meandered a bit to get to my point. I have just read Socialism: The Failed Idea That Never Dies by Kristian Niemietz of the Institute of Economic Affairs and I must say, someone who fears Socialism going in will be well convinced they are right. Niemietz argues against the Socialist’s apologia that the national socialistic economic policies of Russia, China, East Germany, Venezuela, Cuba, et al, that failed so spectacularly were not at all “true” socialism, as many say that real socialism hasn’t been tried yet.
Niemietz debunks this excuse on many fronts, but his most convincing argument addresses the concerns of Socialists who say that those countries (all two dozen examples) each chose a totalitarian regime (or the people had it thrust upon them) and that true socialism can only thrive in a democracy by definition. After all, you can’t distribute ownership and decision-making to the people without democratic process. The socialism was fine, they say, until totalitarian suppression squashed the freedom of group self-direction and therefore these nationalized “experiments” in socialism naturally failed.
A thesis Niemietz demonstrates has no teeth. In fact, he posits very convincingly that the above argument is backwards. People did not create a socialist economy, then choose (or have it thrust upon them) a totalitarian form of government, but rather totalitarianism springs from socialism as sure as belt-loosening follows Thanksgiving dinner.
Niemietz argues that the best intentions of social-democrats is thwarted by the very nature of socialist conventions, namely the abrogation of some individual freedoms for the good of the community. A tenet of a national socialist economy is that a commune (or collective, soviet, kibbutz, etc.) must serve the needs of the many at the sacrifice of the individual. Now, let’s not oversimplify—not all individualism is lost.
Let’s illustrate. In a free market economy, an individual (e.g., Sally) can sell goods (or work a farm, etc.) where she pleases. Due to market forces she may decide to move elsewhere. Suppose there was too much competition driving down the price of her goods. Let’s say two others created and sold the same goods. Sally could ally with them and price-fix their goods, but that is illegal in a free market system. If her goods do not sell, she has the right (indeed, perhaps the good sense) to travel elsewhere to find a market for her product.
In a commune, if Sally contributes her labor/manufacturing skill/know-how to a common enterprise, she is part of a community. Here, the contributions of the many provide the product which is either price-fixed by national mutual consent or by elected government representatives in the democracy. Sally gives up her right to set her own price or sell her own product. She gives this up freely for the benefit of the many.
Sally desires to leave the cooperative (say, on the east coast) to live on the west coast. What does this do to the commune? The loss of Sally’s expertise, her labor, her contribution to the good of the whole will be missed, perhaps detrimentally to the commune. They need her participation. This was her covenant with them, after all, when her local commune was formed. Well, this is bad for the many who decide by social decree that Sally cannot move away. She is called unpatriotic to the cause, not a team player, a selfish individualist. How can she hurt her neighbors with such a selfish move?
It would be defeating to the commune to allow its skilled workers to move. One of the first characteristics throughout history of socialistic communes is that they become self-protecting and some individual freedoms must be sacrificed for the good of the many. Freedom of movement is one of the first of individual rights to go. Communes need to restrict the movement of their key players (everyone in the commune, essentially) if they are to survive.
The old, now defunct oppressive emigration policies of the USSR, East Germany (including the Berlin wall), China, etc. were manifestations that developed quickly from their socialist economies. Such restrictions were not nascent, but rather were implemented years after the advent of these totalitarian regimes.
Eastern European spokesmen stress the debt an individual owes society because of benefits received. In socialist states, it is argued … society makes a large investment in each person, .. and one should therefore repay society by remaining a working member of it.Dowty, Alan, “The Assault on Freedom of Emigration.” World Affairs, vol. 151(2), 1988
Moving on, let’s consider Venezuela. What began with many westerners proclaiming the victory of Chavez’s socialist agenda ended with governmental takeovers, oppressive policies, and failure of the economy. Again, Socialists proclaimed this socialist experiment flawed since Chavez essentially betrayed his own utopian plan through dictatorship.
The flaw is that Chavez felt he had no choice. His later oppressive policies were reactionary to the increasing failure of the communes to govern themselves for the national benefit, which was their purpose. Good intentions devolved into state oppression because the socialistic ideal of the unselfish, community-oriented “New Man” or “New Woman” is a myth. People do not always step up to their role. Venezuelan cooperatives (which became employee-owned semi-corporations) gained higher prices by selling their goods to foreign buyers instead of supporting their local markets. These additional funds were distributed to the cooperative “owners”. This hurt the local community so much Chavez stepped in and took them all over, destroying his own dream of mass cooperation for the common good.
People don’t always cooperate the way we desire them to. People do have self-interest at heart, which is not to say altruistic efforts aren’t part of the human experience, just that people are not a homogenous set of individuals that see eye to eye and want nothing more than to work hard for their neighbor while staring at rainbows.
Generally, people are not always selfish, but necessarily self-centered (but often selfish as well). It is human nature. Socialists say that any group of people can give up such individualism for the group, but I don’t see it that way.
Niemietz’s arguments go on from there, with far more concrete examples than I can provide here. I advise anyone on the fence to buy it. I did so on Amazon. It is easy to get and reads well.
Bless Joe Biden and Kamala Harris and let’s hope that America begins to come together from the fringes towards the middle road—the safer road well-traveled. Our lives, our constitution, and our very country depends upon it.
Stay Friendly and Healthy.